READER REPORT:

Charlotte Dawson was 'just human'

HANNAH KEYS
Last updated 10:43 24/02/2014
Charlotte Dawson
Getty
ONLY HUMAN: Charlotte Dawson was found dead in her home in Sydney on February 22.

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Charlotte Dawson: found dead, aged 47.

I found it tough not to jump to conclusions on hearing the news, having been keenly aware of her troubles in the past few years.

In late 2012, Dawson was hospitalised following a barrage of death threats via Twitter, and subsequently, her speaking out about bullying.

An avid viewer of Australia's Next Top Model, I found Dawson to be brutally honest, and occasionally downright mean, dishing up scathing critiques to contestants from behind the judge's desk, as she said herself, a 'tough-love bitch'.

I was certain that if I ever had the misfortune to find myself in a bikini in front of her, I'd be wedged in a toilet cubicle crying my eyes out for some time thereafter.

But when the Twitter trolls descended on her, she didn't take it lying down - she retweeted their vile messages to her tens of thousands of followers and fought back, exposing them to a hefty digital spoon of their own medicine.

It was an ugly thing that just kept getting uglier, ending with her hospitalisation.

A very Hollywood move, some might have said, but one that I felt was incredibly human.

Somewhere along the line, with her travel shows, magazine photo shoots, surgical procedures and her tiny dogs, the fabulous Dawson had become something un-human. A celebrity. Teflon-coated, shiny and untouchable. A floating head, above the rest of us.

In her 60 Minutes interview post-hospitalisation, Dawson explained that despite her tough public facade, she had struggled with depression for a decade.

"Sometimes, especially if people are wanting you to kill yourself, and you are somebody who's previously tried to end your life, it's very, very easy to feel like that's exactly what you want to do."

Hair in a ponytail, eyes swollen behind thick-rimmed eyeglasses, she was only human. Hurt. But because she was the star, the celebrity in all of it, she was the only human we saw.

No cameras turned on the humans that sat at their keyboards, strung together sentences filled with hateful language and hideous sentiment, searched Google for disgusting images of death; loaded it all into 140 characters and delivered it directly to @MsCharlotteD.

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Did they forget, just for a moment, that they were humans too?

When I was a little younger, and a little sillier, I involved myself heavily in social media. I never gave a thought to how my activity, and the subsequent interactions with others could affect me emotionally, or mentally. I was too busy trying to think of something to say from my new soapbox.

It was only a matter of time, only a matter of views, of retweets, of blog posts, before things got nasty.

No matter what you're doing online, who you are, or what you're broadcasting, it's always only a matter of time.

They told me to kill myself. They made fun of the way I looked. They told me I was useless, or stupid. A slut.

Sure, they were anonymous strangers, random people with opinions that shouldn't have mattered to me. And for some people, it might have been water off a duck's back.

Not for me. Not for bullied-in-school, battled-with-depression me.

It was crushing.

So I did the only thing I could think to do to try and take back control. I shut down every social media account I owned, I took down every one of my videos, every one of my pictures.

I made my previously open online life entirely private.

Basically, I ran away and hid in my bedroom. And as a complete nobody, hiding is a luxury I was allowed.

Charlotte Dawson didn't have that option.

As a celebrity in today's world, deleting your social media accounts is not an option. For someone that makes their living being well-known, slipping off the social radar is simply a bad business choice.

Her Twitter stream represented a sizable marketing channel, with every one of her followers tuned into hear about her latest book, TV show or her upcoming homewares line.

Each and every follower, one potential customer.

She could not afford to 'switch it off'.

Fame is a double-edged sword, and social media adds a new intimacy, a direct line, a weapon that can be wielded with devastating efficiency in the wrong hands.

Charlotte Dawson was not just her celebrity persona, nor the sum of her at times ill-judged criticisms or the brash attitude she served up for the camera.

She was just human.

WHERE TO FIND HELP

If you or someone you know needs to talk, these are 24-hour helplines:

Lifeline: 0800 543 354

Youthline: 0800 376 633

Samaritans: 0800 726 666

If it is an emergency call 111

For information about suicide prevention, see http://www.spinz.org.nz


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